Longing to Play Classic Traveller (1977)
I have a few “first” sci-fi tabletop gaming loves: West End Games Star Wars, FASA’s Renegade Legion titles, Battletech, but I think the title that had the most influence on my approach to tabletop roleplaying was Classic Traveller.
Someone in my school gaming group had borrowed the 1977 Traveller box set from their dad. At the time we were regularly playing Toon and West End Games Star Wars. Traveller was pretty different from both of these and I know initially we were scratching our heads as to exactly how to approach it. Eventually it all fell into place; odd jobs in bizarre places for unique characters drove adventure. We found the starship rules complicated and largely ignored them. I don’t think anyone really batted at eye at the wide range of weapons across the different tech levels. I remember one player really loved character creation because they always felt compelled to derive these amazing backstories for characters in other games but in Traveller the backstory just kinda made itself as you went through your terms of service.
Lately I’ve been playing a lot of solitaire Starforged. It is a fun game and a vast improvement over Ironsworn (in my mind.) There have been times where I felt compelled to play into the bigger storylines and dive deeper into drama when some days I just wanted to play something a bit more… random…? grounded…? maybe even seemingly boring (“slice of life”) events that turn into a big problem. I think this type of play is possible in Starforged but it requires a lot more intention and care to pull off. Traveller on the other, you could totally play a character on a single planet, roaming the starport, keeping their ear to the ground, picking up an odd job or two along the way.
Traveller also just has some fun quirks. The 1977 version in particular has this seemingly goofy table of weapon, range, and armor modifiers to parse for combat but it turns into a delightful mini game of trying to setup an ambush to minimize your risk.
There’s also so many areas in Traveller where you can turn random rolls into stories. Book 02: Starships (1977) has this tidy way of rolling up the available lots of cargo that, just like character creation, you are staring at the dice rolls and stories just start to pour out of your brain about why one load of cargo is only 5 tons and the other is 30.
I’ll fully admit that Cepheus Deluxe is a much more nicely formatted book and probably quicker to play in some cases but there’s also some solitare fun to be had in losing yourself in trying to parse the intent behind the procedures in 1977 Traveller. Many of the sections outlining how to play barely have actual rules, but more like guidance as to how to use the many 2d6-based stats that Traveller gives you. Suddenly it all starts to click - you can roll over or under just about any Traveller stat - whether that’s a PC’s characteristic or a world’s population number. You can quickly eyeball stats and decide they might be worth a +/- 1 DM to a related roll. It is a freeform system but there’s plenty of structure to make sense of how to make it consistent for your tastes.
So here am, flipping through the musty pages of my own early printing of 1977 Traveller, and thinking “this is what I want to play right now.”